Opinions

Want To Save Social Media? Ban The Hyperlink

The humble click-through is the source of much social media woe.

Share this article

Share this article

The humble click-through is the source of much social media woe.

Opinions

Want To Save Social Media? Ban The Hyperlink

The humble click-through is the source of much social media woe.

Share this article

When I signed up to Facebook and Twitter in the mid-2000s, there was no fake news, no conspiracy theories, no political ravings, and — blissfully — no Minion memes.

Before the endless scrolling of Facebook timeline, posts didn’t hang around long enough for people to stalk each other. Similarly, nothing auto-played and adverts stayed out of the newsfeed and just outside of your immediate field of vision. It was a beautiful time to be alive.

Now, social media is a very different place.

While some would argue that this is the fault of partisan politics, Trump, or the rise of fake news, to me it’s not the content that has changed, but the user experience.

The slow decline of these platforms isn’t the fault of some external force; it’s the fault of the designers, engineers and corporate decision makers who have gradually eroded these platforms from the inside out.

Logging on to social media used to be a fun experience. Facebook was an opportunity to reunite with lost contacts, catch-up with friends and see what family members had been up to that week.

Similarly, Twitter offered a unique chance to stay in touch with your favourite celebrities, to try out silly jokes and to build low-maintenance relationships with a handful of strangers.

Both of these sites had an amazing sense of community and introduced revolutionary technologies that set the standard for social media design (in the case of Facebook, the ‘like’ and on Twitter the hashtag).

At the same time, the limited nature of these platforms dramatically increased their early appeal, making them feel raw, intuitive and fun. On Twitter, you only had 140 characters to play with and, later, a single image to share.

Hyperlinks didn’t auto-expand or auto-shorten and videos didn’t embed seamlessly into posts. Similarly, Facebook didn’t offer page recommendations, game invites or content from ‘friends of friends’. Everything was basic, streamlined and offered a single, clear function.

Now, both Twitter and Facebook are a junkyard of unwanted content, features, recommendations and apps. Viral videos, third party content and an endless wall of sponsored posts clutter the newsfeed, making it harder than ever for users to access the content they actually came to see.

This preference for clickable clutter over positive user experiences is increasingly part and parcel of the social media engagement model. As such, the only way to remove this element could be to abandon today’s social networks and start again from scratch.

But what if there’s a better way? What if… we banned the hyperlink.

Hyperlinks are a functioning staple — and a necessity — of the internet. But what about on social media? Facebook is already cracking down on how people share links to political sites; so why not take this one step further and stop people from sharing hyperlinks to external sites altogether?

Immediately, you’ve limited the problem of fake news. No more political articles being shared, no more links to viral YouTube videos or conspiracy sites, and no more clickbait headlines being shared.

Overnight, Facebook and Twitter would go back to being places where friends talk to each other and share their pictures. They’d go back to being social networks.

As crazy as this suggestion may sound, I honestly believe that the reason so many social media users have flocked to Instagram is because: A. Hyperlinks don’t auto-expand and so can’t be shared as the central focus of a post.

And, B. Hyperlinks can’t be shared in the comments section below posts. As a result of these two small UX decisions, Instagram has remained an effective social network, free of reaction gifs, political arguments and long-form opinions shared as third-party links.

Given the success of this approach, the idea of extending a hyperlink ban to all of social media may not be that far-fetched.

Of course, banning hyperlinks would have major implications for those who fund their careers through social media click-throughs. Journalists, PR professionals and content marketers would all have to take a hit. But then again, is that really such a bad thing?

Sites like Facebook and Twitter were designed with friends, family and community in mind; the endless pushing of corporate updates, news articles and ‘content marketing’ is simply a perversion of that original design.

In reality, of course, Facebook and Twitter are never going to take this dramatic step. Similarly, they’re never going to roll back their platforms to a simpler time when users actually enjoyed being there. Today, there is too much money at stake to start learning from the past — even if a failure to do so kills these platforms in the long run.

Like so much of Silicon Valley, Facebook and Twitter have become obsessed with growth that they can barely comprehend what’s best for the end user.

Whether they’re plastering their sites in third party content, mass harvesting user data, or hiding their best content behind layers of ads, the search for endless growth to justify their inflated valuations cannot be disturbed.

Until we stop reinforcing the myth that, in order to be worthwhile, tech companies must constantly evolve, disrupt and grow, this problem is never going to be fixed.

We need to move beyond endless growth and start to consider the possibility that, sometimes, it’s fine to just build a great product and provide users with an experience they enjoy.

Related Articles
Get news to your inbox

Want To Save Social Media? Ban The Hyperlink

Share this article